Before we continue to the end of this reflection on the path the New Evidence travelled in 2017, I want to say a few words about my experiences being involved in this project. As much as it has extended my knowledge frontiers, it has fortified my academic boldness even more so. Authenticating and publicising this image has required a great deal of inner conviction, and faith in myself and my work.I told my peers, people I respect and admire, that I did something that could be seen as extraordinary. In doing so, I had to accept the risk that, despite all the care I took, and the number of times I repeated my analyses, I might have made a mistake somewhere, and ultimately look a fool. It took a certain amount of courage just to hang my academic poster on this subject on the wall outside my office on December 21st.
That personal and professional evolution aside, this has been a very intriguing project. While the Dowe photograph interests me greatly in the way it illuminates the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid legend, I am especially fascinated by the cabinet card photo itself and the glimpses it affords into historic photographic technology, the social place of photographers in the late 19th century, and the photographer himself, Oscar Dowe, as a great practitioner of the art.
Doing this authentication has sparked in me a passion for historic photography and authenticating something I now call sparse historic photographs: photographs of people, places and events in history where there are very few contemporary photographs to represent them.
Raising a signal in a noisy world
The ‘signal to noise’ ratio is a descriptive phrase used especially in radio to describe how many decibels of the desired signal there are within a transmission, in comparison with background noise and other interference. The Oxford dictionary also defines this as being “a measure of how much useful information there is in a system, such as the Internet, as a proportion of the entire content.”  I have been using this phrase for years as a useful way of describing our modern socially connected world in which our attention is being overworked by the messages coming at us from all directions without filters or verification.
The messages we care about (things that interest us, things that impact upon our lives, messages from family and friends) can get smothered in the onslaught of opinions, advertising and hashtag this and that. We are often bewildered and confused and don’t know what we should care about, or even what’s true.
The world of information is like an online version of the Wild West at its wildest.
Trying to raise a signal in this noisy world is very difficult. But somehow, we need to find robust ways to recognise and accept new truths in this confused socially connected world. This is something I and many of my colleagues are working on. But that’s a conversation for another day. Right now, let’s find out more about Oscar!
Oscar DoweAccording to the genealogical record  Oscar was born in Illinois in 1856, and he lived a wonderfully long life for his times and for his chemically challenging profession, dying at the age of 77 in 1932. Oscar was a descendant of the Dow/Dowe lineage of Americans founded when Henry and Joanne Dow arrived in New England from England in 1637. He was known to be a travelling photographer working in a wide geographical area taking in several Western American states.
Dowe was clearly an excellent photographer. His images, as seen in the New Evidence photo and others of his photos such as the two depicted at right, are crisp, well composed, creative, carefully attentive to detail, and capture something of the essence of his subjects.
He was an artisan who took pride in his work, continually improved his studio amenities and kept up with advances in photographic technologies. That so many of Dowe’s photographs survive to this day is testament to how their recipients and descendents valued them.
It is extraordinary that he was able to do all of this while travelling around the Western United States via horse and wagon – the only mode of travel at the time that afforded him the mobility to visit all the cities he is known to have worked.Brian and I have had a fascinating journey investigating Oscar Dowe and look forward to doing more in 2018. Speaking of 2018…
Looking forward to 2018
It seems possible there will likely to be significant developments in 2018. I will be continuing to investigate the data in and arising from the cabinet card, and taking advantage of opportunities to present this information. And as we have heard, Brian has decided to personally present The New Evidence to the public in 2018. I look forward to seeing how all of these various activities develop and watching the dawning public realisation that this photograph offers real evidence to followers of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid legend that they were friends long before commonly assumed.
While we struggle to boost the signal of this discovery above the noise and resistance of our complicated online/offline world, in the court of public opinion, interest grows. As of this writing in December 2017, the video we published in February 2017 has received over 4,200 views and counting, most of which occurred in only the past three months as attention to this remarkable photograph accelerates.
A short but critical window to be part of this legend!
If you feel like you’d like to help there is so much you can do that would matter now. You could view the video and comment on it. You could comment on this post. You could share the news with your friends. You could mention it on any relevant community discussion boards in which you participate. If you do, let us know!
If you are a bit of an activist, you could even write to your local news outlet or favourite online news source and ask them if they’ve heard about this. After all, some news source will eventually pick up the story, and if your prompt starts the ball rolling, we’d be happy to include your name in our ongoing chronicle of how this photo achieves its rightful place in the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid legend.
If you’ve read my Light series, you’ll know I’m enthralled by photographs as a physical record of past light reflected by past objects. Photography is the only way we as humans can preserve real visual evidence of light that played upon the faces of people and places from long ago.
When I look at the Dowe photo, I marvel at the idea that photons of light streamed off the surface of the sun, bounced off of Parker and Longabaugh’s actual faces, then oxidised silver granules on a glass plate in Dowe’s camera from which a chemical imprint was created onto a piece of paper. That piece of paper became the photograph I have held in my hands, and that must have been held in the hands of Oscar Dowe, and then – by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
I don’t know if Parker and Longabaugh imagined this photograph would carry forward aspects of their legacy this far into the future, but I’d like to think they’d be pleased.